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OPINION - Pot numbers don't add up

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Marijuana sales in Colorado are better than expected. The state’s taken in $92-million in new taxes on legalized pot. It’s more money that projected. Supporters of legalization say all of their arguments are coming true: take the criminal element of out of drug deals, tax it to fill the state’s coffers, offer a clean supply that’s monitored by state health officials, and reap the benefits of becoming a drug-tourism mecca. And all of that has happened. If anything, the program’s numbers are even better than reported because many marijuana dispensaries had run out of supplies because demand has been so high.

But let’s look at what the state’s really getting. $92-million in tax revenue is small for a state with 5.1-million people. That's a tax benefit of about $18 per person. That’s tiny… it’s only one-tenth of Wisconsin’s budget surplus that was built on responsible fiscal planning instead of drug legalization.

Now consider the other costs of legalized marijuana: about 12-million people are regular users. Almost none of them are casual users; 85-percent of people in the survey say they get high at least 2 or 3 times a month. One in 6 will become addicted. The cost of outpatient drug treatment averages $2,200 – which is now included under everyone’s Obamacare-approved health insurance policies. In-patient treatment averages five-times as much.

Using those figures, Colorado will have 160,000 people in the next year who'll seek treatment to break a marijuana addiction. If they get into a rock-bottom treatment program, the cost to the health care system is $34-million. About one-third of the state's new-found tax revenue will have gone up in smoke. If the state gave all the remaining tax receipts back to residents as a refund, everyone would get $12. And, of course, it won’t be given back. It’ll be spent; government spending, propped up by the smoke-a-bowl crowd.

Considering the new addicts and the social costs of increasing the number of stoners in a state, the tax gains from legalized pot don’t add up. And the costs of having people who’ll never reach their full potential is incalculable.

Chris Conley

Image: A rolling paper with a filter and marijuana via Wikicommons.com